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Medical Student Haley Sherburne ('15) Assists Healthcare Providers on the Coronavirus Frontlines
Haley Sherburne stands in front of a red banner that says "Washing University in St. Louis School of Medicine."

As hospitals across the United States brace for an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, numerous medical students across the country have seen their education take an abrupt turn. JSerra alumna Haley Sherburne, a three-sport athlete from the Class of 2015 and first-year medical student at Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis (Wash U), is one such student.

Driven by the scarcity of PPE (personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and gowns) and concern for safety, the Association of American Medical Colleges made the recommendation in recent weeks that patient contact for all medical students be prohibited. Thus, banned from research labs and classrooms as well as clinical rotations, medical students are finding nontraditional avenues to offer support through grassroots efforts. Sherburne has joined the movement by helping to develop a volunteer-driven childcare initiative focused on closing a gap for healthcare providers.

She first became interested in helping to coordinate a student-organized response to the coronavirus after a pandemic-focused town hall meeting organized by the medical school dean. During the meeting, students were informed that their classes would be moved to an online format and the physical buildings of the medical school would be off-limits.

Rather than focus inward on the impact the changes would make to their education, the medical students chose to turn their focus outward. Asking themselves where those on the front line needed support most and how they could offer assistance, three students established the COVID-19 Response of WUSTL Network (CROWN) — hoping to help address some of the needs of the community, particularly those of childcare, triage hotline, and frequent literature review.

Sherburne immediately signed on to help. She explain, "We came to medical school to help our community, so we felt like we wanted to do something besides just social distancing. It was empowering to have a way to give back to our neighbors, our friends and community in such an uncertain time. I was inspired by the initiative, drive, and compassion of my classmates."

In just a few short weeks, Sherburne has helped recruit students, identify providers in need, and match students and providers quickly and efficiently while making sure that everyone involved stayed safe.

With an unprecedented situation that was changing day by day, Sherburne and her teammates coordinated with city and county health departments to ascertain if their childcare initiative would qualify as "essential" in order to be exempt from their region's stay-at-home orders. They worked closely with deans and partnered with students from other medical schools across the country in setting up their program.

The childcare initiative started with one vision, then came together over multiple days owing to the rapidly evolving nature of the situation. "We threw up a web site to gauge interest, and within 24 hours, we had 100 provider requests for childcare," said Sherburne.

Realizing they needed a more robust program to quickly pair providers with caretakers while protecting privacy, the team was galvanized to work around-the-clock to make it happen. They currently have nearly 150 volunteers with more coming on board.

The group chose Sherburne to take the lead in coordinating volunteers and managing logistics because of her prior experience as an undergrad at the University of California San Diego. While pursuing a degree in Biochemistry/Cell Biology, she had volunteered as the intern coordinator for the Post Anesthesia Care Unit at Palomar Health, where she managed schedules for over 100 volunteer interns.

The biggest hurdle for the team was figuring out how to build the program in the safest way possible. While effectively a baby-sitting service that matched students with providers, it was not a normal babysitting service due to risk of exposure going out in the world and into people's homes.

"We are trying to be thoughtful and deliberate in not putting students or children in harm's way while creating a support system without transferring illness to providers," said Sherburne.

To get the ball rolling, Sherburne and her team communicated extensively with medical students across the country including Philadelphia, Colorado, and Washington — all of who were developing similar programs for their affiliated hospitals. A medical student from Dartmouth helped create the web site that the Wash U childcare team is utilizing for providers to indicate need.

While the work has been demanding, Sherburne states it has been rewarding as well. "I hope that more providers can return to work and serve the urgent health care needs of our patients knowing that their children are safe and cared for by capable and compassionate volunteers," she said.

Sherburne added, "JSerra taught me that no matter where you go or who you aspire to be or who you end up becoming, you are nothing without your community, and every opportunity you have you should give back to them — because you really do stand on the shoulders of giants."